When Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Affects Studying

The few weeks newly-minted college freshman dread has finally come: midterms week. It can be a terrifying time filled with a mixture of emotions: regret over not having paid attention as much as we probably should have, fear of grades, suspense the night before of “have I studied enough.” But for me, and many other students like me, our challenge this week is not only a couple of tests, but a continued internal struggle.

Less than a week before the bulk of my midterms, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder I, which essentially means I can switch between the two polarities of bipolar (manic and depression) much faster than unconditional bipolar I or II. In my case, these shifts in my mood can be incredibly quick. For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been incredibly manic: an inflated sense of self, feelings of invincibility, etc. But the most “helpful” trait of my manic episodes is a semi-superhuman productivity. I can pump out work and assignments much faster when I’m manic (due in part to staying up later because I feel like I need no sleep or a sacrifice of quality). I also feel like I’ve been magically cured of all my mental health problems, so I essentially start walking around as if I am the second coming, perfect in every respect. This is, of course, all incredibly unhealthy, or at least unhelpful to my overall health. And of course, being bipolar, I’m bound to, at some point, take a turn to the opposite polarity. And of course, with my luck, my depressive episode just so happened to hit at just the wrong time: two days before finals.

I’m tired now, like, all the time. My boyfriend and I were at a rave the other day and I literally fell asleep while standing and leaning against him, that’s how bad it was. And now, sitting here in my dining hall building in the middle of the night, I’m trying to study for my midterms and quizzes tomorrow, but I just can’t, and it’s incredibly frustrating. I know that if I was manic I would be so full of self-confidence and energy that I would be able to study super effectively and efficiently and I would be all set to go. Now all I can do is sit here and try my best, but during my depressive episodes, focusing on practically anything is near impossible. I get lost in my own head thinking about if my life has a meaning or if any of the school work I do is worth it.

Even writing this right now has taken an incredible amount of energy and time, but my mind needed something else to do rather than just sit here and stare at the wall (which I have been doing on and off, switching between this, looking blankly at my study guides and scrolling through my social media).

It almost brings me to tears. How incredibly frustrating: I was on top of the world a few days ago, and I could’ve been going into these midterms so prepared and confident. But now, now I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to do well, but the depression kind of makes me not care about if I do well or not. My friends are all working as hard as they can right now to get good grades tomorrow and this whole week. All I can do is sit here, try my best to study and avoid sinking any deeper into this darkness. But in my experience, that will be nearly impossible too.

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